Peace People the beginnings…

Shortly after 2 p.m. on August 10th, 1976, an incident occurred in West Belfast, involving members of the I.R.A. and British troops. A chase developed with soldiers on Land Rovers following a car driven by a young republican, Danny Lennon, with a passenger on board. The car was speeding down Finaghy Road North when the pursuing soldiers opened fire. Danny Lennon was shot dead.

On this bright, sunny afternoon, Anne (nee Corrigan) Maguire was wheeling a pram along Finaghy Road North. In the pram was six-weeks-old Andrew. Alongside, on her bicycle, was Anne’s daughter Joanne, aged eight and a half, and her toddler son John, aged two and a half. A few yards further along was another son, seven-year-old Mark.

Suddenly, the car containing the dead Danny Lennon and his comrade swerved crazily and crashed through the family group and into the railings of St. John the Baptist school. Joanne and Andrew were killed instantly. John, medically dead was pronounced clinically dead in hospital the following day. Anne was severely injured, suffering leg and pelvic injuries, and brain bruising, and was unconscious for days. Her mind shattered, and haunted by images of the three children she never saw again, she finally took her own life 41 months later.

When the wrecked car, pram and bicycle were removed, local residents set up a little shrine at the mangled railings, and neighbours held a prayer-walk through Riverdale (the estate in which the Corrigan family lived).

To blame either the republicans who initiated the chain of incidents resulting in the deaths, or the soldiers who had shot Danny Lennon as he drove through a heavily populated area in broad daylight, seemed almost profane: the core reaction of the community was one of pure anguish at the needless deaths.

Over the next couple of days, chapels were packed for prayers, groups of people prayed spontaneously at the death site, and local women went from door to door with a petition for a end to the violence. All over Northern Ireland, plans were made for protests against the continuing violence. After her door had been knocked on by petitioning neighbours, a woman called Betty Williams rang a local newspaper. The Irish News, and talked to veteran reporter Tom Samways. She gave out her number asking that anyone who wished to contact her should do so. Meanwhile, Anne Maguire’s sister, Mairead Corrigan, having returned on the evening of August 10th from a holiday, accompanied her striken brother-in-law Jackie Maguire to the hospital, for the formal indentification of his dead children. Afterwards, she went down to the television studio and asked to go on the UTV programme in order to make an appeal for an end to violence. This appeal moved people around the world (also on BBC). She later contacted Mrs. Williams to thank her to her reaction to the news of the death of the children.

Ciaran McKeown, Northern Ireland correspondent for the Dublin-based Irish Press group, and honorary editor of Fortnight Magazine, had just returned to work on the afternoon of August 10th, after the first holiday he and his family had enjoyed since the Troubles had broken out seven years earlier, and during which he had begun to write a ‘philosophy of peace’. He did not know either Betty Williams or Mairead Corrigan and was covering the reaction in West Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland to the tragedy.

Curiously, the local parish priest was on holiday and was temporarily relived by a missionary priest who had worked most of his mission in India and was familiar with the Ghandian movement there in the Forties and afterwards. Following a conversation with him, McKeown, himself committed to nonviolence and a community activist in his own neighbourhood of Ballynafeigh, wrote a feature that week on ‘What would Gandhi do in Belfast?’.

On the day of the Maguire children’s funeral, Friday August 13th, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan were invited to take part in a current affairs programme, Seven Days, broadcast by Ireland’s RTE from the BBC’s studios in central Belfast. Also to appear were Ciaran McKeown, the latter as a journalist expert on both politics and paramilitary underworlds of Northern Ireland. In the event both Williams and Corrigan arrived too late and the programme went ahead without them. It was after this programme that McKeown met Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan for the first time.

Thus they became the leaders of a Movement called the ‘Peace People’ that would play a part in helping move the Northern Irish people towards a peace process, and Good Friday Agreement…

Other Papers and books available on Peace People…

  • Address by Mairead Maguire to Peace People Assembly 18th October, 1986, at Benburb. (This document passed by Peace People Assembly Resolution).
  • The Passion of Peace, by Ciaran McKeown, published by Blackstaff Press.
  • ‘The Vision of Peace’ by Mairead Corrigan Maguire, published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll, N.Y.,
  • ‘The Dream that Died’ Yorkshire Television Documentary on early Peace People History.

This was the beginning of the Movement and the three co-founders worked to harness the energy and desire of many people in Northern Ireland for peace… Ciaran named the movement, Peace People, wrote the Declaration, and set out its rally programme, etc.

The People of Northern Ireland showed their great desire for peace, when thousands marched throughout Northern Ireland – and in the South. Within the first 6 months there was a 70 percent drop in the rate of violence, and things would never return to the terrible rate of death and destruction experienced in 1976 when it looked like the community was spiralling into all out civil conflict.

In 1976, simultaneously, with the Rally programme, the Peace people started the hard work of structuring an ongoing movement to deal with the root causes of conflict, and campaigning for nonviolence, justice, and equality was undertaken to the best of our ability. Throughout the years we have had many setbacks, but we have also been gladdened by seeing some great changes in our society. We know however, that we have still a long way to go in creating a truly nonviolent, democratic, vibrant Northern Irish society, so to-day – 29 years later the work of the Peace People goes on…

Betty left the Peace People in 1980. In 1983 she emigrated to America, and in 2004 she returned to live in the Republic of Ireland. Her contact address is:

Knock Inverin
Co. Galway

E-mail: bwccc@eircom.net